Barcelona’s first game of the new year will be none other than the Catalan Derby against Espanyol.
Barcelona start off the new year by facing Espanyol in the Catalan Derby. The two sides come into the match on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Barcelona are top of the La Liga table, two points ahead of Real Madrid, while Espanyol sit at the bottom in the relegation zone, five points from safety.
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The fixture will also see the debut of Abelardo, the new Espanyol manager who took over from Pablo Machin.
If there is any optimism for the Pericos, it’s that the game is taking place at RCDE Stadium where the home side have made life difficult for Barcelona.
Barcelona did win this fixture quite easily last season thanks a Lionel Messi masterclass but the break in action could affect Ernesto Valverde’s side.
It also does not help that the club will be without both Marc Andre ter Stegen and Arthur Melo who will both be out due to injury.
Expected Starting XI (4-3-3):
Right-back: Nelson Semedo
Centre-back (right): Gerard Pique
Centre-back (left): Clement Lenglet
Left-back: Jordi Alba
Central playmaker (right): Ivan Rakitic
Holding midfielder: Sergio Busquets
Central playmaker (left): Frenkie de Jong
Right winger: Lionel Messi
Centre-forward: Luis Suarez
Left winger: Antoine Griezmann
Neto, the Brazilian goalkeeper, is set to replace the injured Ter Stegen and the only other doubt is at right back where Nelson Semedo could start as Sergi Roberto may not be able to play as his mother recently passed away.
Aside from this being the Catalan Derby, it’s an important game for the Blaugrana if they want to remain atop the table. Real Madrid were unexpectedly held at home by Athletic Bilbao and go away to face a tough Getafe side.
Games between these two sides is always chippy and expect the home fans to be on top the Barça players as soon as the whistle sounds. The visitors are the clear favorites but they will need to show that on the pitch.